Flogging a Dead Horse by Reza Mills

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Should bands reunite? And should bands that have been going a long time finally call it a day?  I recall Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins stating in an interview that the average life span of a band is 10 years, citing The Beatles as the perfect example of this. I would say he had a point, although he did reunite The Pumpkins so make of that what you will.

Its’ hard to not get cynical when a band gets back together after years or even decades apart, in fact it almost smacks of cashing in or desperation. It feels like the individuals in question see their solo ventures failing to garner the same level of interest and critical acclaim as their main band had and henceforth feel the only way to recover this is via hooking up with former bandmates, evidence for the prosecution; Exhibit A – Black Flag. There was no need for that band to reform from what I could see. They had left a legacy of 10 years of excellent music from 1976-1986 during which they made some of the most vibrant, influential and exciting music, virtually invented the independent label ethos and on top of that paved the way for alternative rock acts to play hitherto inaccessible and unthinkable venues which inspired kids who went to their gigs to form bands (particularly in the Grunge scene). The only possible reason I can think of for Greg Ginn to reform Flag may have been less monetary and more the realization that after nearly 2 decades of releasing pretty much across the board terrible solo records to widespread indifference he wanted some recognition again which is understandable. The problem with this is that a 60 year old man playing some 30-35 year old songs is just plain embarrassing because for the most part you will never recapture that original spirit, its’ impossible. Life moves on and people change but seemingly Mr Ginn hasn’t. Even more pathetic is Ginn’s resentment towards Henry Rollins and his decision to include him as part of law suit he was launching against ‘Flag’, featuring the line-up Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton. Now I say this as a big fan of Ginn and his innovative and highly original guitar playing, but petty lawsuits and fighting over band ownership really belongs in the realm of bands like Live, The Eagles and sadly recently Kyuss. I suspect there may be a little envy at Rollins’ success but who am I to say?  Exhibit B – The Pixies; now I know there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with me on this but hear me out. The Pixies were another genre defying, highly influential band. They took what bands like Husker Du were doing and added an eccentric and accessible edge to it. I’m sure even your most clueless music fan would at least have heard ‘Debaser’ at some point in their life; it was like their ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ if you will, a great but ultimately overplayed classic. Like David Lovering said in a Channel 4 documentary about the band, whether you liked them or not they came and went relatively quickly. There is just something sad about middle-aged musicians pretending they’re in their early 20’s. Some things should be left alone which is why I have great respect for Bob Mould and Grant Hart’s decision to never reform the Huskers, although their seemingly endless ongoing animosity would probably play a part. I even gained a new found respect for Paul Weller for choosing not to be part of The Jam reunion despite not being interested in his work. Finally Exhibit C and Faith No More whose decision to get back together was for me the most disappointing especially as Mike Patton had stated that bad things should happen to bands who decide to reform. Now I adore Faith No More, they were a pivotal band in helping to make me realize that the mainstream wasn’t cutting it for me. One of the most original and diverse bands of our time, that broke up at the right moment thus preserving their legacy. Mike Patton has gone onto produce stunning music with the liked of Fantomas and to a lesser extent Tomahawk (to name just 2 of his numerous projects) as well as running his diverse, challenging and brilliant record label Ipecac. Returning to that band therefore felt like a cop-out from an artist who up until now has never compromised. Does Mike need the money? Thankfully according to reports they have no plans to record another album.

Now for bands sticking around past their prime, well I could go on for days listing countless acts that really should have given up the ghost and retired gracefully. On the one hand I can only assume for a lot of these artists who still have the musical bug and feel the need to create it may be hard to stop. Maybe for others they feel that they have been doing it for so long that they don’t really know how to do anything else, or maybe it just boils down to economics. Some bands who are literally flogging a dead horse include The Rolling Stones who haven’t released a decent album since about 1973 (Goats Head Soup era), AC/DC who have long since descended into embarrassing cliché essentially rewriting Back in Black for the past 30+ years and Motorhead who persist in releasing competent but not exactly mind-blowing albums. Of course on the flipside is Black Sabbath who released a pretty good album recently as did Chicago Doom legends Trouble. So you could argue that it can vary from band to band.

The fact remains that no matter how hard you try you’ll never be the same person you were when you were younger and this is particularly applicable for bands who have since gone onto achieve significant financial success, as it must be hard to perform with rage, desperation and hunger when you have a swimming pool and a few quid in the bank, Metallica I’m looking squarely in your direction here.

To finish up, I will once again use Henry Rollins (sorry). He has chosen to move on from music and hasn’t released an album since roughly the early 2000’s as he said, and I’m paraphrasing, that music was a drum he had been beating for a long time and as he comes from the minimum wage working world he wanted to have other irons in the fire. It may be Hank feels at 53 screaming into a microphone like he did in the classic Black Flag/Rollins Band days would be a little ridiculous. After all no one wants to see that, the same could be applied to Richard Hell who has similarly moved on from music (apart from occasional forays) into being a published and critically acclaimed author. Rollins and Hell have moved on, if only more musicians would follow suit.